Assessing masking behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic using Alice and Bob’s dating dilemma

In a recent study posted to the medRxiv* preprint server, researchers depicted that the Alice and Bob’s dating dilemma (ABD) was a strong abstraction for evaluating the masking behaviors during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Study: To mask, or not to mask, Alice and Bob’s dating dilemma. Image Credit: Letters-Shmetters/Shutterstock
Study: To mask, or not to mask, Alice and Bob’s dating dilemma. Image Credit: Letters-Shmetters/Shutterstock

Background

Face masking during the present severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic appears to be a misleadingly simple decision-making dilemma, considering its multifaceted nature. Masking raises questions in the fields of human behavior, biology, physics, and epidemiology.

While research has demonstrated that masks work in general, human conduct drastically complicates the situation.

About the study

The goal of the current study was to propose a game-theoretic framework for examining complicated decision-making issues in public health policy development, specifically in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The investigators used evolutionary game theory to untangle the potential misunderstanding of masking dilemmas during the COVID-19 pandemic, notably the repercussions of dishonesty and irrationality. 

The present game-theoretic study does not comprise any survey experiments apart from simulations. The researchers formulated and analyzed the masking problem as an extended Sir Philip Sydney (SPS) evolutionary game with a hypothetical couple, Alice and Bob, influenced by the cryptographic figures in computer science and the handicap principle in evolutionary biology. 

The authors hypothesized Alice and Bob as professional hackers before the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Moreover, the authors proposed ABD as a non-symmetric four-by-four strategic-form game. Additionally, in the current ABD model, the relatedness parameter (k) depicts the closeness of the love connection between Alice and Bob and quantifies their mutual interests in masking-or-not decision-making.  

Findings and discussions

The study results indicated 16 possible alternatives or strategy combinations, considering the ABD problem as an asymmetric four-by-four strategic-form SPS game. From the 16 conceivable strategic combinations, the authors described six types of equilibriums and their payoffs, including fitness. Those equilibriums could be differentiated as pooling, polymorphic hybrid, and separating (signaling), and they might have various behavioral and payoff aspects. 

Furthermore, their stabilities might differ substantially, resulting in theoretical and practical implications. Those repercussions have been researched thoroughly and adequately documented in the extant literature. On the other hand, the authors stated that their practical implications were far more complicated.

The six kinds of equilibriums derived theoretically from the game model adequately described the varied norms of masking that arose throughout the world as the COVID-19 pandemic progressed, despite the exhibited complications of the ABD game model. Those norms cover a wide range of behaviors of mask believers, converted, skeptics, voluntarily masking, universal masking, coexisted, or divided world of skeptics and believers. 

In addition, the formation of these norms has been undoubtedly impacted by several social, scientific, and other complex factors and, most significantly, the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic. Further, the authors found that these norms were presently at distinct levels of stability and were predicted to continue to change as the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic progresses.

Conclusions

According to the authors, this was the first study using game theory for investigating masking techniques. 

The study findings revealed 16 strategic interactions from the proposed ABD non-symmetric four-by-four strategic form game. Of the 16 strategic interactions, six might attain equilibrium with distinct traits such as pooling, separating, and polymorphic hybrid, being Nash, neutrally stable, or evolutionarily stable. The six equilibrium kinds tend to reflect the distinct behaviors of converted, skeptics, mask believers, universal masking, willingly masking, coexisted, or separated worlds of skeptics and believers.

The study indicated that the seemingly simple ABD game was sufficiently general for analyzing population masking policies through replicator dynamics. It was also useful for exploring other intricate SARS-CoV-2 pandemic decision-making difficulties like aggressive tracing versus privacy protection, herd immunity versus quarantines, and lockdown versus reopening.

Additionally, the authors stated that the present strategy was specifically appropriate for addressing issues of dishonesty and irrationality in simulating masking strategies since 1) evolutionary game theory was not plagued by the rationality presumption similar to the classic game theory and 2) the handicap principle and its evolutionary game model was crafted to sufficiently deal with the probable deception in communications.

*Important notice

medRxiv publishes preliminary scientific reports that are not peer-reviewed and, therefore, should not be regarded as conclusive, guide clinical practice/health-related behavior, or treated as established information.

Journal reference:
Shanet Susan Alex

Written by

Shanet Susan Alex

Shanet Susan Alex, a medical writer, based in Kerala, India, is a Doctor of Pharmacy graduate from Kerala University of Health Sciences. Her academic background is in clinical pharmacy and research, and she is passionate about medical writing. Shanet has published papers in the International Journal of Medical Science and Current Research (IJMSCR), the International Journal of Pharmacy (IJP), and the International Journal of Medical Science and Applied Research (IJMSAR). Apart from work, she enjoys listening to music and watching movies.

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